Substance Use and Abuse in Teens
Teen substance use is a problem that persists, but communities, schools and parents can play a crucial role in a coordinated plan of deterrence. Parents need to stay informed of the risks that teens face. Several patterns highlight the issues adults need to address in assisting teens:
Three main substances account for the majority of substance use and abuse by youth
Tobacco (in the form of cigarettes), alcohol, and marijuana have been the most widely used substances by teens for several decades. During the last several years, the use of each of these substances has decreased significantly, but substantial minorities of teens try these substances and engage in current use.
Statistics show that the majority of youth have tried cigarettes and alcohol by the end of their teen years, and 1 in 5 teens indicate current substance use. Significantly, the order in which teens are likely to try substances starts with tobacco, shortly followed by alcohol, and then marijuana, with youngsters starting experimentation around 12 years of age. For many youngsters, tobacco experimentation is a gateway to other substance use. This data suggests that all parents need to be alert to the possibility that their children will try substances and may move on to regular use.
Use of other substances follow trends
Just as fashions change, so do the substances with which teens get involved. Cocaine, crack, heroin, and club drugs such as ecstasy have been prevalent at times. In the last years, young people are also using prescription drugs, most notably painkillers, but also some psychiatric medications used to treat Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and anxiety and depressive disorders. Additionally, some kids seem ready to try any item or activity that can give them exciting sensations or an altered mental state. These latter items and activities include inhaling cleaning fluids or paint, self-induced oxygen deprivation by choking oneself for short periods of time or getting the breath squeezed out by someone else, and using pressurized air (used to clean electronic equipment) to knock out oxygen. All of these items or activities add a substance to the body that creates a changed mental status or deprive the brain of oxygen, which also creates a changed mental status. Informal contacts among teens and some Internet interchanges helps them find out about these trends and the "joys" associated with them.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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